A Cinematic Hate Crime
August 1st, 2021 | JH
“This movie is the cinematic equivalent of a hate crime.”
This was a single sentence from a movie review that caught my attention recently. I thought this was a woke modern review, but alas it was from 1991! As I read some of the reviews it seems The Last Boy Scout didn’t get as good a rating as I remembered, and I was surprised to realize that the critical consensus today is that it is a bad movie. Was this always the case?
Back in the early 90's, when this movie initially came out, it wasn’t viewed as a masterpiece, but it was recognized as good for what it was: a hard-boiled detective mystery updated with Lethal Weapon-styled buddy-cop sensibilities. It was a profanity strewn, violent and ultra-macho movie the likes of which are no longer made.
Why are they no longer made?
It’s not because of the violence… violent movies, increasingly amorally violent movies… are still made in droves. The John Wick-styled action that is currently in vogue is far more violent than what we saw in the 80’s and 90’s.
It’s not the profanity, as four-letter-words are so prolific that they’ve lost most of their impact.
It’s not even the ultra-macho posturing, as many movies feature the cartoonish manly men of today (Jason Statham, Vin Diesel, The Rock, Chris Hemsworth) doing the same sorts of wild and extraordinary feats that we watched in action movies from yesteryear.
Movies like The Last Boy Scout are no longer made because their sensibilities are so wildly out-of-step with modern Hollywood. Our cultural zeitgeist has moved (progressed) so far away from movies like The Last Boy Scout, that younger viewers will view this movie as some kind of artifact from a bygone civilization. I watched this movie multiple times back in high school in the early 90's, but the political and cultural change over the past 30 years made revisiting this film a curious (but worthwhile) endeavour.
Joe Hallenbeck: You’re the bad guy, right?
Milo: I am the bad guy.
Joe Hallenbeck: I’m supposed to be trembling with fear…something like that?
Milo: Something like that.
Joe Hallenbeck: Fine. I’ll start trembling in a minute. In the meantime, do you think I could have a drink? - See the clip here
Bruce Willis plays Joe Hallenbeck, a chain-smoking, down-on-his-luck private investigator with a bad attitude and wry disposition. This is peak Bruce Willis, back when his movie stardom was still rising and he actuallytried. The past 20 years have made most of us forget how good he really used to be.
He’s partnered with Damon Wayans playing Jimmy Dix, a disgraced former football quarterback looking for revenge. This too was Damon Wayans at his peak. Hot off a successful run on the extremely popular In Living Color comedy show, (basically a black Saturday Night Live + Jim Carrey) Damon Wayans was aiming to be the next Eddie Murphy.
Despite the fact that the two actors apparently hated each other, the chemistry between Willis and Wayans is exceptionally good.
The plot is basically a conspiracy involving blackmail, sports gambling and political assassination. It’s written with the flair and snappy dialogue that Hollywood legend Shane Black built his career around. Director Tony Scott brings that early 90's flair to the movie that makes it slicker than it needs to be and the whole production is overseen by action mogul Joel Silver, who brings a laundry list of the usual suspects into all the key spots of production. It’s an expensive and professional affair that provides viewers with a rougher and seedier buddy-cop-type movie than usual.
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So that’s the basics. Now for the politics.
The Last Boy Scout was produced in 1991, but the script was written years before that and was originally titled, “Die Hard”. Producer Joel Silver purchased The Last Boy Scout script for a record breaking $1.75 million. He asked Shane Black if he could use the title for a different movie that was finishing production featuring Bruce Willis stuck inside a building filled with terrorist bank robbers. Black agreed and changed not only the title but began rewrites to make the film more affordable.
This late 80’s/early 90’s era of Hollywood was the era of big agency deals featuring alpha-male hot shots (think Entourage) and the larger-than-life excess that went with it. A big part of the reason The Last Boy Scout feels so foreign by today’s standards is because the eco-system that produced movies like this is completely contrary to the woke-Hollywood ethos of today.
The first thing that raises an eyebrow is the film’s treatment of women.
When you realize that very few women were involved in making this film the deficits are severely noticeable. Jimmy Dix is first introduced to the audience alongside a woman that he’s just finished having sex with. Her role is to lie naked in bed and function as Jimmy’s regretful infidelity. He then leaves what we realize is a football clubhouse that must have been the site of a party the night before.
Jimmy then demonstrates his good guy bonafides by breaking the nose of another football player who is trying to rape a woman in a hot tub by holding her underwater. Jimmy seems more annoyed by the insults from the player than by the fact that he was in the process of drowning a woman while trying to procure oral sex.
The cavalier quality of a scene like this is severely pre-#MeToo and would never pass muster in the modern age. The fact that this made the cut in a mainstream action movie, and nobody thought anything of it, is one of many shocking anecdotes found throughout. It’s also indicative of how women were routinely portrayed in this era of action films…trophies, whores and victims.
There are only three other female characters in the whole movie.
#1. Hallenbeck’s wife – She appears in the first scene having had a sexual affair. She shrewishly demands Hallenbeck’s attention, and he doesn’t give it. We barely see her again until the end of the movie in which she unconditionally apologizes to him for everything and becomes a dutiful and respectful wife.
#2. Jimmy Dix’s girlfriend – A very young Halle Berry plays Cory the stripper. Her role is to get killed right away and set the plot in motion. Also, she is featured wearing buttless chaps while doing her onstage routine.
#3. Hallenbeck’s daughter – This is actually the largest female role in the film. Her purpose is to argue and disrespect her father, provide a key plot point, become the damsel in distress and at the end of the ordeal learn to respect and obey her father.
There’s a rule in Hollywood now that you should assess your script for three things. Do your female characters speak? With another female character? About something other than a man? If you can’t answer yes to all three of these questions, then you have a problem. It’s a good minimum rule that this film fails.
Hallenbeck: Go fuck yourself.
Milo (pulling a knife on Hallenbeck): Okay now that’s not polite. It’s very abusive sounding. What would you do Joseph, if somebody told you to go fuck yourself? Would you cut one of their eyes out?
Milo: No? What would you do? You think you’re so fucking cool, don’t you? You think you’re so fucking cool. Well, just once, I would like to hear you scream in pain.
Hallenbeck: Play some rap music. – see the clip here
One big noticeable thing about this film is that it was released just before the ascendancy of the LGTBQ+ agenda was beginning. There’s a throwaway gay joke in a bar with Damon Wayans affecting a lisp. At one point in a police station Bruce Willis calls him a “fag”. The biggest character decision was to make the main bad guy henchman Milo…played by the openly out and multi-talented Taylor Negron… a homosexual villain (never stated explicitly).
In this bygone era of Hollywood filmmaking, homosexuals were usually side characters used as comic relief. This is the only mainstream film I can remember from this era in which they portrayed a homosexual as a full-on maniacal villain.
The general Hollywood rule today is that gays are off-limits to being portrayed as anything less than wonderful and superior. Even if they are anti-heroes doing terrible things, the audience is meant to sympathize with them. Seeing Negron chew up the scenery as a coolly stylish, merciless and violent hitman is radically contrary to what we are conditioned to expect today.
"The first thing that raises an eyebrow is the film’s treatment of women."
The other noticeable element that is missing in this film is race.
It was only about a decade before that audiences saw Nick Nolte partnered with Eddie Murphy in the buddy-cop film 48 Hours and the bulk of their time was spent hating each other largely because of race. Nolte calls Eddie Murphy racial slurs repeatedly and it’s not even addressed as an issue.
Ten years later a movie like The Last Boy Scout arrived and race issues aren’t ever mentioned in any way that matters. Perhaps this was a conscious decision, but it doesn’t feel like it. The movie just never bothers itself with race. During this era, race relations were good and getting better all the time. What wokeness now purports is that this was not in fact true, but that racism just bubbled under the surface, disguised as egalitarian colour blindness.
It was only a few years later that Bruce Willis and Samuel Jackson were paired in Die Hard: With A Vengeance and they spent the majority of their time fighting bad guys while talking about race. That film arrived in 1995, and their interactions weren’t nerfed with the political correctness we have today, but nonetheless, it marks the beginning of our modern era of weaponizing and rehashing racial politics without moving forward. The Last Boy Scout makes nothing of race to the point of its absence being noticeable by today’s standards.
The Last Boy Scout was at the end of the action movie cycle for its time. It was only two years later that Arnold Schwarzenegger made the action/comedy Last Action Hero, in which he starred as a cinematic action hero come to life in the real world. The whole film was a meta parody of the action films people had loved between 1982 and 1993, and it served as the death knell for these styles of films. The makers of Last Action Hero were aware of the pitfalls of the genre at the time and the lifecycle of these movies had run their course.
Movies always age poorly… it’s a rare exception that a movie made over 30 years ago is still watchable. Mostly this is due to style, dated special effects, slang, fashion, pacing, music, even acting styles if you go back far enough. Since the left won the culture wars and gained hegemony about five years ago, we are witnessing a transformation that is escalating with each passing year.
For Zoomers who grew up in this era of woke progressivism, watching an old movie like The Last Boy Scout is likely unsettling. The contrast between what the mainstream was and what it is today is stark. Both eras of Hollywood have their pitfalls. The Last Boy Scout suffers from too much Hollywood dude-bro sensibilities of the time. The female characters are shallow and exploitative and one note, leaving some to suggest the film is misogynistic. The references to homosexuality and the malevolence of the homosexual villain could be read as homophobic. Ignoring race could be read as itself racist.
Maybe the 21st Century wokesters need to lighten up? Maybe a macho movie featuring mostly men and how their women impact them is simply targeting their audience. Maybe the homosexual angles of the film are in their own way simply honest and diverse, and the absence of race issues was progress?
Rarely do I end an article without a strong conclusion, but in this case I’m not sure what to make of this film. Is it an offensive, unenlightened non-woke piece of hate cinema, or is it a coarse and insular early 90’s dude-bro fantasy that is simply past it’s best before date?
Pour yourself a drink, light a cigarette and check out The Last Boy Scout and tell us what you think.
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